FRANCE’S vaccine crisis has deepened after experts warned the country faces a third wave of coronavirus this year.
Experts at the country’s renowned Institut Pasteur say France’s current 100,000 jabs a day rollout has been ‘insufficient’ to stop a highly infectious strain of the virus that is currently ripping through France.
The Institut predicts that by the time Britain aims to have vaccinated all over 50s in April, France will be facing a third massive surge in cases due to a huge amount of its population remaining unvaccinated.
While the UK hopes for a summer boom, the EU is still fighting a massive vaccine crisis and lockdowns show no signs of ending soon.
Having seemingly deliberately undermined confidence in the brilliant Oxford/Astra-Zeneca vaccine simply as a way of bashing Britain post-Brexit, both France and Germany are now having to beg their citizens to take it.
Vaccine take-up in Europe is much lower than the UK, partly as a result of politicians like French leader Emmanuel Macron shamefully branding the UK-developed Oxford / Astra-Zeneca jab “quasi-ineffective”.
His reckless attempts to bash Britain left him red-faced, however, as the vaccine has since been shown to have staggeringly high efficacy in all age groups and he’s now begging citizens to take it to end their lockdown woes.
The front page of German newspaper Bild yesterday declared ‘Dear Brits, we envy you” with the attached article saying the UK’s ‘successful’ vaccine programme allowed Boris Johnson to promise a brighter future to Brits
It added that while the UK sees light at the end of the tunnel, Germany remains “stuck in lockdown” with Angela Merkel‘s government languishing well behind in handing out vaccine doses.
Follow our live blog below for the very latest on the UK ‘s path out of lockdown…
GAPS IN UK REGULATION FOLLOWING BREXIT TRANSITION PERIOD – ACADEMIC REPORT
Authorities in the UK were ill-prepared to assume responsibility for regulation from the EU following the transition period, according to an academic report.
The wide-ranging report found that UK bodies were not ready to take on their new responsibilities from January 1 this year, and that gaps in this area still remain.
It also questions whether existing authorities are well enough equipped to carry on such responsibilities compared to the bodies they have replaced, due to staffing, budgets and expertise.
Researchers from a number of universities contributed to the review coordinated by The UK in a Changing Europe, the Centre for Competition Policy, and Brexit and Environment.
VACCINE PASSPORT COULD TAKE AT LEAST ‘THREE MONTHS’ SAYS EU CHIEF
Ursula von der Leyen last night warned it will take the EU “at least three months” to put in place plans for vaccine passports.
The news means they won’t be ready until the start of June at the earliest, in a blow to British sun seekers.
Under the PM’s roadmap out of lockdown international travel is set to be allowed again on May 17.
After a video call with EU leaders the Commission chief said she didn’t to get people’s expectations up “too high, too early”.
She added: “Member States will need to move fast if we want such a green certificate to be in place by summer.”
Teachers and coppers will not be able to jump the vaccine queue, it will be confirmed today.
Despite massive pressure to speed up jabs for some in the public sector, the rollout is to continue being distributed on an age basis.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation will confirm the priority order of the next phase of vaccines that will not take into account any professions.
Ministers aim to have all UK adults jabbed by July, and the next cohorts will be those 49 to 40, then 39 – 30 and all under 30s.
Under 18s are not approved for the jab yet.
EARLY EVIDENCE DETECTED OF ‘PROTECTIVE IMPACT’ OF COVID VACCINE
Strong early evidence has been seen in Ireland of a protective impact from the coronavirus vaccine.
As of February 22, 359,616 doses of the coronavirus vaccine – 226,291 first doses and 133,325 second doses – had been administered.
Professor Philip Nolan said “significant progress” is being made in the pandemic.
And “very hearteningly” he said “we are beginning to see strong early evidence of a protective impact of vaccination” in the cohorts who are receiving the jab.
He said the seven-day moving average of cases over the week to Wednesday was 737, down from 816 in the previous week.
The daily number of new cases reported on Thursday was 613.
COVID VACCINE ROLLOUT IN THE UK
Yarmouth and Freshwater on the Isle of Wight came out on top having vaccinated 57.5 per cent of the population – a total of 5,451 first doses.
This was closely followed by Sidmouth Town in Devon at 57.3 per cent, and Felixstowe East in Suffolk at 54.75 per cent.
In fourth and fifth place were two areas of West Sussex – Selsey (53.17 per cent) and Ferring & Kingston Gorse (52.85 per cent).
But, 77 districts have vaccinated fewer than 10 per cent of residents, based on NHS figures and Office for National Statistics population estimates.
Cathedral and Kelham in Sheffield came bottom, having vaccinated just 3.19 per cent of its 21,171 residents.
New figures reveal a postcode lottery for Covid vaccines with some areas way ahead of others.
Almost 60 per cent of ALL adults in one part of the Isle of Wight have had their first jab – but the rate is 20 times lower in one area of Sheffield.
NHS statistics show nine in 10 over-65s in England had received their first dose of the vaccine by February 21.
And analysis by the MailOnline suggests 15 areas of the country have jabbed at least half of all their residents.
EU vaccine figures are vastly behind Britain – with the UK having 27 per cent of citizens receiving the first jab as opposed to 6 per cent in the EU.
And more than one million doses of the jab are currently going unused in Germany.
It comes after a poorly judged campaign in which the governments of Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron scaremongered about the British-made AZ vaccine – suggesting it didn’t work in over-65s.
And they were branded “monumentally stupid” for their actions which have led to widespread vaccine scepticism in both France and Germany.
ON THE BRINK
The EU’s catastrophic failure over its vaccine rollout will push more nations to leave the ailing bloc and trigger a fresh wave Euroscepticism, experts have said.
France and Germany face another lockdown after they played politics and attempted to shun the Oxford AstraZeneca (AZ) vaccine as the killer virus looks set to surge again across Europe.
Robert Oulds, director of think tank The Bruges Group, told The Sun Online the vaccine crisis could be the start of the “unraveling” of the EU.
“The EU has failed, and after this we will see a pushback against the EU which will lead to a dismantling of it – first gradually, then quickly,” he said.
Other experts agreed the vaccine crisis will shake the union short term as scepticism will surge – but did not believe the latest row is the death knell for the EU.
No spending or taxation plans have been confirmed ahead of Wednesday’s Budget, but there are suggestions Conservative MPs could rebel if it contains sizeable tax hikes.
The Times reported that officials are considering plans to increase corporation tax from 19% to 25%.
The Prime Minister’s press secretary, Allegra Stratton, told reporters on Thursday that No 10 would consider votes against the Government’s Budget by Tory MPs as a confidence issue, meaning they could be stripped of the whip.
TORY MPS WARNED THEY COULD LOSE PARTY WHIP IF THEY REBEL OVER BUDGET
Downing Street has warned Conservative MPs they could lose the party whip if they vote against next week’s Budget, amid suggestions there could be a rebellion over a possible increase to corporation tax.
The warning came on Thursday as Tory former chancellor Lord (Philip) Hammond urged Boris Johnson to risk unpopularity by telling the public “some difficult home truths” about the damage the coronavirus pandemic has caused to the economy.
Former prime minister David Cameron warned Chancellor Rishi Sunak that tax rises “wouldn’t make any sense at all” as the nation opens back up from lockdown.
NI SCHOOL REOPENING PLAN RISKS MAKING CHILDREN SECOND CLASS CITIZENS – MINISTER
Northern Ireland risks treating its children as second class citizens if it does not accelerate the pace of school reopening, the Education Minister has warned.
Peter Weir said the region was an “outlier” compared with faster reopening plans elsewhere in the UK and the Irish Republic.
Mr Weir and his DUP colleagues are urging Stormont Executive colleagues to revisit a plan for primary school children in P1 to P3 to return on March 8.
Under the plan, unanimously agreed by the Executive last week, secondary school children in key exam years – years 12-14 – will return two weeks later.
On that date, P1 to P3 will revert to remote learning for another week.
CARE WATCHDOG WARNS AGAINST ‘UNACCEPTABLE’ CARE HOME VISITING BANS
Unacceptable blanket bans on care home visits are in operation in England contrary to Government guidance, the care watchdog has said.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) said providers should not wait until the vaccination programme is complete before allowing loved ones to visit residents.
It intervened after becoming aware of blanket decisions “continuing to be made against Government guidance” in some areas.
The CQC said that while providers are “rightly cautious” they “mustn’t wait for the completion of the vaccination programme to facilitate visits”.
Kate Terroni, chief inspector of Adult Social Care at the CQC, said: “Blanket bans are unacceptable and people should follow Government guidelines, give sufficient weight to local risks and advice from their Director of Public Health, as well as giving consideration to the home environment.
“The individual must be at the centre of the decision and all decisions need to stay under review as circumstances change.”
Mr Stewart said the Government had not taken a “dogmatic” approach during Brexit negotiations and had decided to stay in other schemes like the Horizon research arrangements.
He said: “With Erasmus, what we decided was – it has many benefits but we think there is a better way of delivering those benefits.
“The new Turing scheme will, I think, broaden and deepen the international contacts that students have.
“We want it to have wider access, it will allow, for example, students at colleges to take part, even school pupils to take part in it.”
One of the main criteria for Turing funding would be how exchanges could widen access, he said, while it would have a global reach.
The Turing scheme will be backed by £110 million and is due to start in September this year.
MINISTER DEFENDS UK’S TURING STUDENT EXCHANGE PROGRAMME
The programme designed to replace an EU-funded student exchange scheme will offer “wider access”, a minister has said.
Scotland Office minister Iain Stewart defended the Turing scheme when he appeared at a Westminster committee on Thursday.
The devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales want to continue using the EU’s Erasmus scheme beyond the end of the Brexit transition period but the UK Government have opted for their own scheme – named after the famed codebreaker Alan Turing.
Mr Stewart was asked about the Turing scheme at the Scottish Affairs Committee.
Committee convener Peter Wishart asked if the UK Government simply put requests to stay in Erasmus in the “to be ignored file”.
VAUXHALL FACTORY COULD CLOSE IF DEAL NOT REACHED ON ELECTRIC CAR PRODUCTION
The owners of Vauxhall are reviewing options for the Ellesmere Port car factory, including closing the site if a deal cannot be reached with the Government.
It is understood the company is considering making electric cars at the Cheshire factory.
It is believed parent group Stellantis is seeking financial incentives to produce a fully electric vehicle at Ellesmere Port, along with commitments on the post-Brexit trade of auto parts including batteries.
Speculation has been mounting since Vauxhall’s French parent company, PSA, merged with Fiat Chrysler to form a new automotive superpower last month, fuelled by the forthcoming ban on new petrol and diesel cars.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has been involved in talks with the company.
ONE IN FIVE ADULTS UNDER 70 IN ENGLAND GIVEN FIRST COVID JAB, FIGURES SHOW
One in five adults in England aged under 70 have had their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, new data suggests.
Provisional figures from NHS England, published on Thursday, show that 16,337,561 Covid-19 vaccinations took place in England between December 8 and February 24, including first and second doses.
This is a rise of 411,146 on the previous day’s figures.
Of this number, 15,794,992 were the first dose of a vaccine, a rise of 396,937 on the previous day, while 542,569 were a second dose, an increase of 14,209.
An estimated 20.3% of people aged 16 to 69 had received their first jab as of February 21. The estimates show little variation between the regions, ranging from 17.2% in London to 22.3% in north-west England.
VULNERABLE PEOPLE ASKED TO SHIELD INVITED FOR COVID-19 VACCINE JAB
Hundreds of thousands of people asked to shield in England are being invited for a Covid-19 vaccine jab.
About 1.7 million more people were added to the shielding list last week after experts identified additional adults at serious risk of the virus.
Some 600,000 of that group are now being invited to book a slot at a vaccination centre or pharmacy service, NHS England said.
The remainder have already had their jab in the first phase of the vaccination programme.
Letters are also arriving for about 445,000 people aged 64 who have not yet been vaccinated.
MINISTER’S TIRADE AT JOURNALIST WAS FROM ‘PERSONAL’ ACCOUNT, CABINET OFFICE SAYS
The Cabinet Office has dismissed a complaint about equalities minister Kemi Badenoch by arguing her tirade at a journalist was issued from a “personal” Twitter account.
Ms Badenoch was widely criticised for accusing Nadine White of “creepy and bizarre” behaviour after the HuffPost reporter sent a standard request for comment to a Government press office.
The minister published correspondence between the journalist and officials in launching the attack, which led to an alert about the risk to media freedom being registered with the Council of Europe.
Cabinet Office permanent secretary Alex Chisholm responded to a formal complaint from HuffPo by saying Ms Badenoch is responsible for her own conduct on her social media account.
“I note that the tweets were not issued from a government Twitter account, but instead from a personal Twitter account,” his letter said. “The minister is personally responsible for deciding how to act and conduct herself, and for justifying her own actions and conduct.
BREAKING: UK COVID DEATHS DROP BY A QUARTER IN A WEEK AS 323 MORE DIE
UK Covid deaths today rose by 323 – down by a quarter on the rise recorded this time last week.
Another 9,985 infections were confirmed, meaning 4,154,562 have now tested positive for the bug in Britain since the start of the pandemic.
UK COVID ALERT LEVEL DOWNGRADED TO AMBER
The UK’s Covid alert level has today been downgraded, in a hopeful indicator that pressure on the NHS is lifting.
Chief medical officers made the promising decision to pull the country down from its highest alert level, five, to a four.
CORONAVIRUS ALERT LEVEL LOWERED AS THREAT TO NHS RECEDES
The UK’s Covid-19 alert level has been lowered as the country’s top medics said the threat of the NHS being overwhelmed has receded.
The Level 5 alert was announced on January 4 as lockdown measures were introduced by Boris Johnson amid fears the health service could be swamped within 21 days.
The decision to reduce the alert to Level 4 has now been made by the UK’s four chief medical officers and NHS England’s medical director because the number of cases in hospital are “consistently declining”.
England’s Professor Chris Whitty, Northern Ireland’s Dr Michael McBride, Scotland’s Dr Gregor Smith, Wales’s Dr Frank Atherton and NHS England’s Professor Stephen Powis announced the decision on Thursday following advice from the Joint Biosecurity Centre.
They said health services across the four nations “remain under significant pressure with a high number of patients in hospital”, but thanks to the efforts of the public numbers are now “consistently declining, and the threat of the NHS and other health services being overwhelmed within 21 days has receded”.
TORY EUROSCEPTICS DEMAND NORTHERN IRELAND PROTOCOL IS DITCHED
Tory Brexiteers have called on Boris Johnson to scrap the arrangements for Northern Ireland which he agreed with Brussels.
The European Research Group (ERG) has published a report which concluded the Northern Ireland Protocol had a “profound and negative effect”.
The protocol was designed by the EU and UK to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
It achieves this by effectively creating a regulatory and customs border in the Irish Sea, with goods imported into Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK subject to a range of new processes.
This has caused some disruption to trade since it came into effect on December 31, and those difficulties could intensify significantly on April 1 when a grace period currently limiting the bureaucracy applied to imported supermarket goods ends.
WATCH: GAVIN WILLIAMSON INSISTS EXAM GRADES WILL BE ‘FAIR AND ROBUST’
GAVIN WILLIAMSON INSISTS EXAM RESULTS WILL BE FAIR AMID GRADE INFLATION CONCERNS
The Education Secretary has insisted A-level and GCSE grades decided by teachers will be fair amid concerns that the plan will result in grade inflation.
Gavin Williamson confirmed to MPs that “no algorithm” will be used to decide grades this summer, with the judgment of teachers relied on instead and any changes made by “human intervention”.
Mr Williamson defended allowing teachers to decide students’ grades after exams were cancelled for a second successive year, as he insisted exam boards will carry out checks to “root out malpractice”.
Addressing the Commons about plans for grading, he said: “Ultimately, this summer’s assessments will ensure fair routes to the next stages of education or the start of their career. That is our overall aim.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the plans for teachers to grade pupils were a “good compromise” as he backed Mr Williamson following last year’s exams fiasco.